Arson is responsible for an estimated $1.2 billion dollars per year and is one of the leading causes of fires and deaths due to fire in the United States. In 1995, the Georgia Public Safety Training Center created a unique training program specifically for Arson Investigators in a concerted effort to prevent fraud and protect life and property.
While Chattooga County has many highly trained and skilled firefighters, Trey Skelton has just become the first from the County to complete the rigorous training program to become a certified Arson Investigator. The training program consists of two phases and totals over 160 hours of intense instruction. This level of training is equal to a Master’s Degree in arson.
Skelton is a City of Summerville Police Officer and a City of Summerville Firefighter. A 2002 graduate of Trion High School, Skelton received a bachelors degree in Criminal Justice from Jacksonville State University. Skelton has an extensive background in police, fire, and investigative work. After spending a year with the Fort Payne Police Dept, he worked as the forensic investigator in Mobile, Al where he served as the Death Investigator for non-natural deaths (Homicide Investigations). He returned to Chattooga County in 2012 where he served on Sheriff John Everett’s task force before becoming part of the City Police Dept. He joined the Fire Department in 2014 with a goal to become an arson investigator. In order to be able to arrest a suspect for arson a fire investigator must be a certified police officer.
“Every fire needs to be investigated. Not only to be re-active, but to be pro-active and educated the public. This [certificate] moves us forward.” said Skelton. Members of local fire and law enforcement agencies are excited to have Skelton’s skill set on board. However, the Arson Investigator Certificate is not limited to Chattooga County or even to Georgia. This will serve Skelton as a nationally recognized position.
Skelton had to complete 10 fire scenes including 2 vehicle and 7 fatalities as part of his training. Skelton described his training, “it’s basically a reenactment of a rear scene. We get the call and go out and investigate. We are suppose to find the origin of the fire and what caused it and the circumstances that lead to the fire. Then we interview witnesses and suspects, get search warrants, submit items to the crime lab, draft reports and build case files over the whole two weeks we are there, just like we would in the normal world.”